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Leaders Celebrate DTV-Day

Arlington, Va. — Broadcasting and CE industry leaders celebrated the passing of a major digital television milestone Friday, when all full-power analog TV broadcasts are to cease in favor of an all-digital system.

Throughout the day hundreds of television broadcasters will be turning off their analog television channels to go exclusively with their new digital stations, as mandated by law.

The transition date actually had been pushed back several times along its road to completion. The last, and most controversial delay, came at the beginning of the year when the incoming Obama administration, fearful of a backlash from nearly 6 million unprepared Americans who stood to lose their broadcast TV signals, convinced Congress to push back the transition date that had been scheduled for Feb. 17 until today.

At the same time, an additional $650 million was allocated to reduce a backlog of four million requests for $40 government coupons to subsidize the purchase of digital converter boxes needed to help old analog sets receive the new digital stations.

“It has taken two decades to arrive at this monumental day, and 98 percent of U.S. households are already enjoying the benefits of digital television,” Gary Shapiro, Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO said in a statement commemorating the achievement. “Consumers are aware of this transition and are taking what steps they need to continue enjoying free over-the-air television. With 112 million DTV sets and more than 31 million digital-to-analog converter boxes sold, and 90 percent of Americans subscribing to a multichannel video provider, the vast majority of consumers are ready.

Shapiro said that multi-industry and government efforts to educate the public on the digital transition have helped to place digital televisions “in over 65 percent of U.S. homes, with thousands more being sold everyday.”

“We know today that this transition is not over for many consumers and we will continue to work to smooth the transition for all who wish to enjoy DTV,” Shapiro said. “This transition will free up spectrum and create new services that will provide improved communication for our first responders and take advantage of the wireless Internet.” 

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), meanwhile, released findings from a new survey Thursday showing that nearly 9 in 10 households that rely solely on antennas to watch television were fully ready for the transition to digital television as of June 3.

According to the survey, 88 percent of broadcast-only households are completely digital-ready, “a considerable jump from 82 percent reported in NAB’s April survey,” the NAB said.

Of the 12 percent, or 2.2 million, over-the-air households that are still unprepared for the transition, 3 percent have applied for or already received converter box coupons from the federal government. But 9 percent (1.75 million households), while aware of the transition, have not yet taken any action to prepare for the transition, according to the NAB. 

“This poll shows that as the deadline inches closer, many procrastinators are taking action and finalizing preparations for the switch to digital,” said Seth Geiger, president of SmithGeiger, which conducted telephone poll of 948 OTA-only homes between May 31 and June 3. “However, 9 percent of over-the-air households appear stubbornly resistant to taking any kind of action to upgrade. Of this group, 21 percent still intend to apply for a coupon and 32 percent feel they still have time to get ready in the final week. As seen in Wilmington, North Carolina, we expect two-thirds of these viewers will belatedly make the transition as well.”

“In a free society, we would never expect to see 100 percent consumer participation in a technological change like the digital television transition,” said Jonathan Collegio, NAB Digital Television VP. “The broadcast television industry, from major networks to small market stations, took upon itself the massive job of raising public awareness of the transition to complete and total saturation. Despite the dramatic success of these efforts, some viewers will make a conscious decision to not upgrade, and that is their choice. Over time, however, we expect many of these viewers to eventually make the switch to enjoy the tremendous benefits of free digital television.”

Meanwhile, to help alert those people who will be left without TV service, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday issued a revised list of 118 stations in 85 designated market areas (DMAs) that will participate in an analog nightlight program. These stations will continue to operate analog channels for 30 days after June 12, 2009, to provide emergency and DTV transition information to viewers who had not obtained the necessary equipment to receive digital broadcasts by the transition deadline.